Since I have teens, this question I found posed online grabbed my attention. My jaw dropped as I skimmed through the comments! Many of those commenting equated “expressing sexuality” with engaging in sexual activity. This just isn’t true.
Children are born curious about their own bodies. It is not uncommon for a baby boy to have an erection, but it has nothing to do with sexual feelings. Older infants discover their genitals in much the same way they have discovered their hands and proceed to suck their thumbs. It’s a self-soothing behavior.
Toddlers are always ripping their diapers off and don’t have an issue running around naked! Maybe clothes feel restricting or tearing through the house naked gets grandma’s attention. We teach our kids to name body parts and getting familiar with the potty so it seems only natural to be touching or looking at these areas. Each family has to set boundaries, decide what is appropriate when, where and in front of whom.
Preschoolers love to play dress-up and your son may prefer throwing on a prom dress and fairy wings while your daughter puts on a man’s tie. This is the age of imagination! Young children are curious and playing is how they learn. All the fun questions start, too. “Why don’t I have a penis like my brother?” “Where do babies come from?” Many of us worry about going into long, embarrassing lectures, but at this point short and sweet is probably all they are looking for.
Some parents freak out if they notice their child touching himself openly, or even when they’re half asleep. This is normal behavior. It’s best not to overreact. Try to resist the urge to say things like, “Stop touching yourself there, that’s nasty!” No need to criticize your child for being curious about his body, but explain that it may be more appropriate if done in private.
Children are often curious about their friends’ bodies, as well. When my daughter was 5 she came running to me because one of her friends wanted to kiss her tummy. She wasn’t keen on that and we talked about it before they returned to playing dolls.
As our children approach puberty their sexual feelings become more apparent. Just because the physical feelings are there doesn’t mean their mind is mature enough to handle a sexual relationship. This is another time to set boundaries about what is appropriate. Sitting too close on the living room couch? Kissing in public? These are important conversations to have, and often come hand-in-hand with the hard questions. “If I have to do it, can I keep my clothes on?” “Did you practice abstinence, mom?” Once my children asked if their dad and I ever “did it.” I said yes, three times! Once for each child. They gave big moans, ughhhh. They still thought open-mouth kissing was gross.
Sex is a curious topic no matter what age. As they continue to grow up, my children have caught me off guard more than once with their questions about sex. I may feel a twinge of embarrassment at first, but I feel privileged that they trust me enough to ask.